Grass Valley’s historic Holbrooke Hotel in escrow (PHOTO GALLERY) |

Grass Valley’s historic Holbrooke Hotel in escrow (PHOTO GALLERY)

It’s “99 percent” official. The Holbrooke Hotel, one of western Nevada County’s oldest historic hotels, is in escrow with the closing date scheduled for the middle of next month.

Jordan Fife, who made big news this spring when he purchased The National Hotel in Nevada City, is the buyer.

But unlike with the National, which will be closed through the summer for an extensive renovation, Fife said he has no plans to shutter the Holbrooke for a major remodeling.

Both Fife and current owner Ian Garfinkel stressed that the hotel, including the restaurant and the Golden Gate Saloon, will stay open with no change in staff.

The hotel has been for sale for a while, Garfinkel said.

Garfinkel noted he bought the Holbrooke when it was just a day away from the auction block and in serious danger of closing.

“I probably bit off more than I was planning on,” he said. “But I brought it through a bad economy.”

While he still calls the Holbrooke ”an amazing building,” Garfinkel said he was ready to let the responsibility go.

“I want to spend more time with my kids, I want to do more music,” he said, adding “I want to thank the community for their support over the last eight years.”

Fife confirmed that escrow is set to close Aug. 15 and said nothing will change until he begins a phased renovation, probably within the next six months.

“We will reconfigure the hotel in a respectful manner,” he said.

Fife and his team are deep into the massive restoration of the National on Broad Street, with roofing slated to begin this week.

But Fife said it actually makes a lot of sense, due to the economy of scale, to undertake two renovations simultaneously.

“We might as well, as long as we have everyone here already working,” he said.

Fife is still working on the renovation design for the Holbrooke, he said, adding, “I have a lot of ideas.”

The Holbrooke includes 17 guest rooms in the main building and 11 additional rooms in the rear “annex,” known as the Purcell House.

Fife is not using a cookie-cutter approach for the two properties, saying that the Holbrooke has a slightly different target demographic.

“The difference is that this property is more of a business hub,” he said, citing the banquet room and Purcell House and the potential to be a popular wedding venue. “It’s a really exciting project, and it’s in great condition.”

In particular, Fife said, he is fascinated with the under-utilized Iron Door space, which he envisions as a speakeasy.

And the saloon of course will still have live music, he promised.

“We’ll be very conscious of (catering to) the community as well as tourists,” Fife said. “Grass Valley as a whole is seeing so many interesting businesses coming in … Change is happening, people are ready to provide things for the locals. They need a great restaurant, they need a place to hang out. We want to still be a part of the lexicon of this community.”

A storied history

The site of the current Holbrooke Hotel originally was The Union and then the Gold Exchange, in 1851.

The Golden Gate Saloon, rumored to be the oldest continuously operating saloon west of the Mississippi, burned down in a fire that consumed all of downtown Grass Valley in 1855. The owners of the saloon, Stephen and Clara Smith, reportedly set up a tent the next day and began serving beer and whiskey.

They eventually rebuilt the saloon and another building that would become The Exchange Hotel. The hotel burned in 1862 and was rebuilt by Charles Smith, a relative of the original owners.

Charles Smith ran the Exchange Hotel until 1877, when he defaulted on the mortgage. M.P. O’Conner bought the hotel at a sheriff’s sale and sold it for $12,000 two years later to Daniel and Ellen Holbrooke.

Daniel Holbrooke died in 1884, but his widow ran the Holbrooke Hotel until 1908, when she sold it to Oeter and Elizabeth Johnson.

Throughout the years the hotel has hosted luminaries such as Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Jack London, prizefighter “Gentleman Jim” Corbett and entertainers Emma Nevada, Lola Montez and Lotta Crabtree. Five U.S. Presidents — Grover Cleveland, James Garfield, Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison and Herbert Hoover — stayed at the hotel. Black Bart, the infamous stagecoach robber, also stayed at the Holbrooke, according to the registry books.

But after a series of negligent owners, the building fell into a state of disrepair.

In the late 1970s, Arletta Douglas became interested in the property and set about restoring the inside of the building. She kept the back bar, the same mahogany slab that sailed around the Cape Horn to be delivered to the hotel in the late 19th century. The wholesale renovation of the hotel was completed in 1982.

Howard and Peggy Levine bought the property in 1991 and sold it in 2002 to the Matt Weaver family.

In 2005, a group of investors, including Jim O’Brien, Mike Nudelman and Realtor Cheryl Rellstab, bought the property for about $2.35 million.

In March 2009, the investors announced the hotel would have to close down if it wasn’t sold, after receiving no bites on a $4.4 million asking price. Two different operation groups came in on lease-to-own contracts but ran into financial trouble.

Two Utah investors, Toni Johnson and Gareth Atkinson of Salt Lake City, operated the hotel from March 16 to July 31, 2009, before pulling out due to financing issues. Atlantic First operated the hotel from Aug. 1, 2009 to Jan. 4, 2010 before leaving hastily and failing to pay staff.

The two investment groups ended up owing the city more than $41,000 in back taxes and overdue sewer and water charges, resulting in liens filed against the property.

In late July 2010, Citizen’s Bank, which held the mortgage on the historic property, said the owners were in default and the hotel would be placed on the auction block. Citizen’s later postponed that sale to make time for Garfinkel to close escrow on the property in 2011. The hotel had been listed for $1.4 million, but the sale price was not disclosed.

During Garfinkel’s tenure the Holbrooke has been the star of several reality TV shows, including makeover show “Hotel Impossible” in 2013 and “The Dead Files” in 2015.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at

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